There as an earlierAskhistorians answer by /u/PLJVYF, that characterized Cratchit's wages as fairly low for an educated professional in the Victorian era.
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On they other hand, I've found a two other articles, that claim it was actually fairly high. I understand that those two seem to have a somewhat libertarian, pro-free-market bent and don't seem to have been written by proper historians. But they make the point that the average wage for a clerk at an accounting house was 11 shillings, six pence a week, and that Cratchit would have made significantly more than a lot of the urban poor in Victorian England.
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· 3y · edited 3y
The previous answers are wrong (Update: This statement was made before /u/mimicofmodes answer). They assert (ridiculously) that there was virtually no inflation during the 19th century and uses that to justify comparing Cratchit's wage to the wages of someone several decades later (one as late as 1888!). Even if we accepted there was no inflation (there was), the 19th century was a time of wage growth. The simple use of the converter is also suspect. It'd a bit like claiming you can compare 1972 salaries to 1925 salaries because the US dollar is on the gold standard. Yes, the person working in 1925 would be underpaid by 1972 standards. But they were living in 1925!
So, how far did Cratchit's 15 shillings a week (39 pounds a year) go? Was it a good wage, a fair wage, starvation wages?
Now, let's start with the obvious. Cratchit and Scrooge did not exist and Dickens was not a businessman who knew the intimate details of running a business. Everything about the Scrooge-Cratchit relationship is thus constructed to serve Dicken's points in the novel.
Because of that, the libertarians are somewhat more correct but are ignoring that moral message. Scrooge is, through visions of the past, contrasted with two other businessmen: Jorkin and Fezziwig. Fezziwig is honest, scrupulous, and more than a little incompetent at running his own business. He's also unfailingly kind and caring towards his employees and generous and charitable and shows all the signs of Christian love that Dickens wants to encourage. Jorkin is the opposite. Jorkin is not a good businessman or a good person. He is a liar, a cheater, someone who puts personal profit first, corporate profit second, and his workers, suppliers, etc as a distant third. This leads him to drive the business into the ground (though he gets out with a good sum of money).
Dickens contrasts both these characters to bring Scrooge into a more specific light. Scrooge is not Jorkin. He is scrupulously honest, has never lied or cheated anyone, always pays on time and fairly, obeys the law, gives his employees government mandated vacations (with some grumbling). He's also not Fezziwig. His relationship with Cratchit is strictly businesslike. He has no interest in him as a person or his family or in spreading cheer to his employees. His rather crotchety position is that he pays them for their work. Why should he have to do more?
Dickens takes pains to point out that Scrooge is not lying or lacking in a merchant's virtues. The very first lines in the novel are about how Scrooge is so honest and fair that when he declares something to be true everyone, even the good characters in the novel, can have no doubt it is true. Scrooge is the man who expels the exploitative Jorkin and keeps the company from going under (with Marley). Dickens also shows that Scrooge is almost always in the legal right with his disputes. He is threatening to evict a couple on Christmas day... but they really haven't paid their rent. Even they admit it's a little wrong to feel good at his death because they really did owe the rent and Scrooge was a human being. His employees steal from him after his death but this is still stealing.
A Christmas Carol is not about the deserving poor and the wealthy miser who refuses to help them. It is about the emptiness of mercantile values without Christian ones. It is certainly a good thing, in Dicken's opinion, that Scrooge is an honest businessman. But it's not enough to save him from Hell. To do that, he must also show Christian virtues. And even neglecting them without actual hostility is enough to have his greed drag him down to hell. That is the lesson of a Christmas Carol and why it was so shocking at the time. Not because Victorians had no sense of the exploitative rich but because A Christmas Carol posits that if you don't go out of your way to help people, you are a bad person.
Within that relationship, how are Cratchit's wages? Maybe you can guess. They are fair, the market going rate, but not generous. The book is set in 1843. Forty pounds a year would have been the pay of a mid-level civil servant, a high level tradesman, or an early career skilled professional. It would have put Cratchit almost exactly in the top 20% of England by income. The equivalent percentile today would be 40,000 pounds in Britain or $80,000 in the United States. This isn't a one to one comparison, but it gives you some idea of whether the wage was high or low relative to other work. It also shows you how Cratchit (with seven children and living in London) was probably stretching his living.
But this is again part of the contrast Dickens is setting up. Cratchit has need of help because of his large family. A mercantile minded person might point out his need does not mean he deserves higher wages. It's certainly not Scrooge's problem either: they aren't his kids. But Scrooge is, by Dicken's belief in Christian love, obliged to give him help.
And this is what he does in the epilogue: becoming like a second father to Cratchit's family. Perhaps that included monetary help but it was not a matter of just raising Bob's salary. Indeed, Scrooge's actions after he wakes up mostly show that he doesn't feel very much guilt about how he runs his business. He lets some tenants stay in their home while they scrape together the rent. He gets a Christmas feast. He surprises the family of one of his workers and gives them gifts. Scrooge is using his money and influence to help people but he doesn't reform his business fundamentally because he's not Jorkin. He never was.
In short, the pro-Scrooge articles are missing that A Christmas Carol is a satire of exactly who they are. The sort of person who would defend the pre-reform Scrooge is probably the sort of person who'd agree with Scrooge's defense of himself before the ghosts. He was fair to his employees but Christian charity means being better than fair.
So was Scrooge paying high or low for his time? He was paying fairly close to average for what Cratchit did. How far did Cratchit's wage get him? Fairly far, but with the number of children he had, and where he lived, he probably still felt the pinch. Enough that he tried to find his children work to help out. His salary was roughly equivalent to 40,000 pounds or 80,000 dollars in terms of income percentile. Another way to look at it: his children are able to get roughly a third of his salary (five shillings a week) from being educated but without his experience.
See more: 1 Dollar 1987 Gold Canadian Dollar Coin Value, 1987 Canada Dollar
From Sentimental Realism, the Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens, Charles Dickens, London in the Age of Dickens, and The Annotated Christmas Carol.